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The State of Religious Studies in Research Universities in Israel

Summary of the report

  1. The various types of religious experience and phenomena that have played an integral role in human society since the dawn of history warrant focused study and a scholarly discipline of their own. Moreover, the twenty-first century is witnessing a surge of religion at all levels of society; this is happening worldwide, but it is especially salient within the borders of the State of Israel and across the Middle East. The direct and multidimensional impact of religion on public life is clear and significant. Nonetheless, the underlying reasons for the resurgence of religion – often accompanied by outbursts of violence – remain largely enigmatic. This situation calls for a concerted and joint effort by scholars to analyze the contemporary religious phenomenon and its relation to social life. The Academy’s decision to assess the field of religious studies in research universities in Israel is, therefore, a welcome and timely step.

  2. The committee was impressed by the rich and high level of scholarship in many areas of religious studies conducted at universities in Israel today. Israeli research in this field has achieved worldwide recognition and influence, in terms of both quality and quantity. A substantial percentage of the grants awarded by the Israel Science Foundation in the humanities have gone toward research that touches upon the study of religion. Still, the universities, by not fully exploiting the potential of the research conducted under their auspices, have not led Israel to its rightful place as a prominent country in the field of religious studies.

  3. The scope and quality of research conducted at educational institutions in Israel are evident first and foremost in the study of Judaism in all its aspects. Israeli Bible scholarship has won considerable recognition; there is a renowned tradition of scholarship in Islamic studies in Israeli academia; and distinguished research has been done on Christianity and Asian religions, with the last attracting growing interest during the past two decades. A number of Israeli scholars have won international recognition in these fields.

  4. Most of the Israeli scholars who have contributed to religious studies have done so through their specialization in various fields of knowledge, usually as part of their study of a specific cultural field within defined linguistic bounds. Sometimes they conduct their research without even being aware of its contribution to religious studies. Due to this lack of awareness, theoretical, methodological and comparative religious studies elements often do not receive the emphasis they deserve.

  5. There is a need to maintain, strengthen and broaden the international influence of Israeli research in the various branches of religious studies. Several directions should be pursued. One clear direction for enhancement is the comparative study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – three religions that are deeply connected and have influenced each other over the generations. This type of comparative research is intended not only to make scholarship on one of the religions (Judaism or Islam, for example) accessible to scholars of the others, but also to elicit new insights and deeper understanding of religious phenomena throughout history – insights that cannot be clearly discerned when examining these phenomena through the rigid lenses of disciplinary divisions. In this way, the study of the Abrahamic religions in Israel could, with relative ease, become a field of excellence at the global level.

  6. In the humanities faculties, the study of religion is dispersed among the various departments, and it is consequently unstable. In the social science faculties, the attention devoted to religion is not at all systematic, and not enough research is being done on religious phenomena. The number of studies based on collaboration between researchers from the humanities and the social sciences is particularly small.

  7. Collaboration between universities is minimal. In a field like religious studies, greater collaboration could substantially contribute to improving research and graduate-level instruction. Such collaboration should be cultivated.

  8. Only one department and two programs of study are explicitly devoted to religious studies in research universities in Israel. Due to budgetary and other constraints, no significant change in this situation is expected in the foreseeable future.

  9. As a primary measure for promoting religious studies in Israel and maintaining and broadening its influence in the international arena, we recommend establishing a national center for the study of religions and cultures. This type of center would help develop Israel’s huge potential in the field of religious studies to full advantage and make Israel, lying as it does at the crossroads of Eastern and Western cultures, a vibrant nexus of research on religions, especially the Abrahamic religions and their reciprocal ties in the past and present. This type of center could be based at one of the universities in Israel, or it could be established as a shared inter-university center.

  10. An effort should be made to establish an extensive initiative on “the study of religions and cultures,” initially for a period of five years. Such a program would serve as a basis for establishing the much-needed national center, by pooling and mutually enhancing the research conducted at the various universities, and by bringing leading international scholars in the field to Israel. The program would highlight the comparative context of the questions relating to the role of religion in the twenty-first century. This goal would be achieved be means of separate but interrelated activities at various venues, including seminars, workshops, inter-university and multidisciplinary research groups, a publication series and public discussions targeting a wider audience.

The State of Religious Studies in Research Universities in Israel | The Full Report [Hebrew]